The Privateer's-Man, One hundred Years Ago
EXTRACTS FROM THE LOG OF A PRIVATEER’S-MAN
We cruise off Hispaniola—Capture a French Ship—Continue our Cruise—Make a Nocturnal Attack upon a Rich Planter’s Dwelling—Are repulsed with Loss.
In compliance with your request I shall now transcribe from the journal of my younger days some portions of my adventurous life. When I wrote, I painted the feelings of my heart without reserve, and I shall not alter one word, as I know you wish to learn what my feelings were then, and not what my thoughts may be now. They say that in every man’s life, however obscure his position may be, there would be a moral found, were it truly told. I think, Madam, when you have perused what I am about to write, you will agree with me, that, from my history, both old and young may gather profit, and, I trust, if ever it should be made public, that, by divine permission, such may be the result. Without further preface, I shall commence with a narrative of my cruise off Hispaniola, in the Revenge privateer.
The Revenge mounted fourteen guns, and was commanded by Captain Weatherall, a very noted privateer’s-man. One morning at daybreak we discovered a vessel from the masthead, and immediately made all sail in chase, crowding every stitch of canvas. As we neared, we made her out to be a large ship, deeply laden, and we imagined that she would be an easy prize, but as we saw her hull more out of the water she proved to be well armed, having a full tier of guns fore and aft. As it afterwards proved, she was a vessel of 600 tons burden, and mounted twenty-four guns, having sailed from St. Domingo, and being bound to France.
She had been chartered by a French gentleman (and a most gallant fellow we found him), who had acquired a large fortune in the West-Indies, and was then going home, having embarked on board his whole property, as well as his wife and his only son, a youth of about seventeen. As soon as he discovered what we were, and the impossibility of escape from so fast a sailing vessel as the Revenge, he resolved to fight us to the last. Indeed, he had every thing to fight for; his whole property, his wife and his only child, his own liberty, and perhaps life, were all at stake, and he had every motive that could stimulate a man. As we subsequently learnt, he had great difficulty in inspiring the crew with an equal resolution, and it was not until he had engaged to pay them the value of half the cargo provided they succeeded in beating us off, and forcing their way in safety to France, that he could rouse them to their duty.
Won by his example, for he told them that he did not desire any man to do more than he would do himself, and perhaps more induced by his generous offer, the French crew declared they would support him to the last, went cheerfully to their guns and prepared for action. When we were pretty near to him, he shortened sail ready for the combat, having tenderly forced his wife down below to await in agony the issue of a battle on which depended every thing so dear to her. The resolute bearing of the vessel, and the cool intrepidity with which they had hove to to await us, made us also prepare on our side for a combat which we knew would be severe. Although she was superior to us in guns, yet the Revenge being wholly fitted for war, we had many advantages, independent of our being very superior in men. Some few chase-guns were fired during our approach, when, having ranged up within a cable’s length of her, we exchanged broadsides for half an hour, after which our captain determined upon boarding. We ran our vessel alongside, and attempted to throw our men on board, but met with a stout resistance. The French gentleman, who was at the head of his men, with his own hand killed two of our stoutest seamen, and mortally wounded a third, and, encouraged by his example, his people fought with such resolution, that after a severe struggle we were obliged to give it up, and retreat precipitately into our own vessel, leaving eight or ten of our shipmates weltering in their blood.
Our captain, who had not boarded with us, was much enraged at our defeat, stigmatizing us as cowards for allowing ourselves to be driven from a deck upon which we had obtained a footing; he called upon us to renew the combat, and leading the way, he was the first on board of the vessel, and was engaged hand to hand with the brave French gentleman, who had already made such slaughter among our men. Brave and expert with his weapon as Captain Weatherall undoubtedly was, he for once found rather more than a match in his antagonist; he was slightly wounded, and would, I suspect, have had the worst of this hand-to-hand conflict, had not the whole of our crew, who had now gained the deck, and were rushing forward, separated him from his opponent. Out-numbered and over-matched, the French crew fought most resolutely, but notwithstanding their exertions, and the gallant conduct of their leader, we succeeded in driving them back to the quarter-deck of the vessel. Here the combat was renewed with the greatest obstinacy, they striving to maintain this their last hold, and we exerting ourselves to complete our conquest. The Frenchmen could retreat no further, and our foremost men were impelled against them by those behind them crowding on to share in the combat. Retreat being cut off, the French struggled with all the animosity and rage of mingled hate and despair; while we, infuriated at the obstinate resistance, were filled with vengeance and a thirst for blood. Wedged into one mass, we grappled together, for there was no room for fair fighting, seeking each other’s hearts with shortened weapons, struggling and falling together on the deck, rolling among the dead and the dying, or trodden underfoot by the others who still maintained the combat with unabated fury.
Numbers at last prevailed; we had gained a dear-bought victory—we were masters of the deck, we had struck the colours, and were recovering our lost breaths after this very severe contest, and thought ourselves in full possession of the ship; but it proved otherwise. The first lieutenant of the privateer and six of us, had dashed down the companion, and were entering the cabin in search of plunder, when we found opposed to our entrance, the gallant French gentleman, supported by his son, the captain of the vessel, and five of the French sailors; behind them was the French gentleman’s wife, to whose protection they had devoted themselves. The lieutenant, who headed us, offered them quarter, but stung to madness at the prospect of the ruin and of the captivity which awaited him, the gentleman treated the offer with contempt, and rushing forward attacked our lieutenant, beating down his guard, and was just about to pierce him with the lunge which he made, when I fired my pistol at him to save the life of my officer. The ball entered his heart, and thus died one of the bravest men I ever encountered. His son at the same time was felled to the deck with a pole-axe, when the remainder threw themselves down on the deck, and cried for quarter. So enraged were our men at this renewal of the combat, that it required all the efforts and authority of the lieutenant to prevent them from completing the massacre by taking the lives of those who no longer resisted. But who could paint the condition of that unhappy lady who had stood a witness of the horrid scene—her eyes blasted with the sight of her husband slain before her face, her only son groaning on the deck and weltering in his blood; and she left alone, bereft of all that was dear to her; stripped of the wealth she was that morning mistress of, now a widow, perhaps childless, a prisoner, a beggar, and in the hands of lawless ruffians, whose hands were reeking with her husband’s and offspring’s blood, at their mercy, and exposed to every evil which must befal a beautiful and unprotected female from those who were devoid of all principle, all pity, and all fear! Well might the frantic creature rush, as she did, upon our weapons, and seek that death which would have been a mercy and a blessing. With difficulty we prevented her from injuring herself, and, after a violent struggle, nature yielded, and she sank down in a swoon on the body of her husband, dabbling her clothes and hair in the gore which floated on the cabin-deck. This scene of misery shocked even the actors in it. Our sailors, accustomed as they were to blood and rapine, remained silent and immoveable, resting upon their weapons, their eyes fixed upon the unconscious form of that unhappy lady.
The rage of battle was now over, our passions had subsided, and we felt ashamed of a conquest purchased with such unutterable anguish. The noise of this renewed combat had brought down the captain; he ordered the lady to be taken away from this scene of horror, and to be carefully tended in his own cabin; the wound of the son, who was found still alive, was immediately dressed, and the prisoners were secured. I returned on deck, still oppressed with the scene I had witnessed, and when I looked round me, and beheld the deck strewed with the dead and dying—victors and vanquished indiscriminately mixed up together—the